French national assembly

The terms Left and Right wing don’t always make sense and people seem to be using them to mean different things

At the time of writing, the UK is gearing up to an election,, which means many people have talked to me about politics. The terms “left wing” and “right wing” are used, and I easily get confused about these sliding scales, because everyone seems to use them to mean different things.

The confusion could me mine alone, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. I never learned anything at school about how the political system works, leaving me and everyone else to learn about politics afterwards from whatever sources available – mostly the media, which always has some bias (even the BBC, which is supposed to be unbiased, but of course is always written by a Human with thoughts and feelings). 

“Right wing” was first explained to me using the Nazis. We know they’re the “far right” right? Everyone says that, and they’re used as an extreme example. The Nazis were all about state control, everything was “for the people”. They were called the National socialist party. Socialists.

Capitalism vs Socialism

So in my head right now I’ve got a scale with Socialists on the right. But what’s on the left? The obvious opposite of socialism is capitalism right? The idea that everything is owned by private businesses and corporations instead of government.

So in this theory, things like nationalising the railways (always a hot topic in the UK) is more of a socialist right wing thing, and privatisation is a capitalist left wing thing?

No. That doesn’t seem quite right. This scale is wrong. Because it’s the Labour party, who want to re-nationalise the railways are the ones being called the left, and the Conservatives, who usually are for privatisation (the big debate right now is privatising the NHS) are said to be on the right. So this capitalism vs socialism scale in my head is way off.

Globalisation vs Nationalism

So if I imagine another scale, one with the Nazis on the right, imagining that they were incredibly Nationalist, meaning everything they did was to benefit their own country, then the opposite of that is “globalist”.

So in the recent French elections, the Nationalist Le Penn, was called “right wing”. She talks against the EU, and everyone seems to be worried that if she gained power, there would be a French version of Brexit (Frexit?). So her opposition, Macron was more pro EU (or at least this is the narrative I was told by the media), making him a globalist.

So we’ve got Globalisation on the left and Nationalism on the right. 

Thinking back to our scale, things get really confusing. The Conservatives are usually on the side of big global businesses, and historically, Labour has been for the rights of the workers. Making Conservative on the left of this scale, and Labour on the right.

Before the Brexit vote, the Conservative government sent out leaflets saying that we should stay in the EU, even though it was their idea. And the leader of the Left is not even pro EU anyway. So this scale sort of falls apart.

Progressive vs Conventional

This is the third scale in my head, which actually sounds absurd. But I’m including it because if you look up the actual definition of left vs right wing. This is actually what its about, apparently. Right is apparently trying to keep things how they are (this is why I guess the Conservatives are called Conservative, to mean “conventional”). And left are trying to change things.

The idea of Left and right apparently comes from the French National Assembly, where supporters of revolution (who wanted to change things) literally sat on the Left. This is fine, and makes sense – but the problem is it’s totally relative to whatever system is currently in place.

This means that if we apply this seating arrangement to a room full of Nazis. The Nazis would sit on the left, and anyone opposing them would be the right.

Confusing stuff.

What’s more confusing is that when I talk to people about politics, everyone seems to have their own definition for it. Sometimes when they say left vs right wing, they actually mean one of the scales mentioned above – even though that’s not the same thing.

Is it just me that’s confused?

It could of course be just me that’s confused, and I’m just not informed enough. But like I said before, many of us weren’t taught at school how politics even works, and it’s difficult to be informed from reliable sources. And being informed I think is important, especially as we’re expected to make important decisions, when it comes to voting and referendums.